Lean into Grief

Below are words I mostly wrote in February when I was knee deep in my healing process.

All the gurus these days are saying to write “xyz steps to ____” and how to articles that are Google-able. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I also want you to hear the full heart, the messy essays, and the honest truth: that I don’t have things figured out. Grief and healing and life are not a five-step process.

I learn from the stories and vulnerabilities of others. If you do too, you are in the right place.

I promise to keep showing up like this, even if I also show up in ways that are more practical and Google-able too. Thank you for making space for these words in your life.

 


“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4

“We can’t heal if we can’t grieve; we can’t forgive if we can’t grieve. We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend.” – Brene Brown


Upon returning from our honeymoon this fall, Caleb and I launched into a life together. While it included lots of cuddles, shared pots of coffee, and meals together, it also included a lot of tears and pain. The burnout I’d been fighting started catching up with me as I made a home in the safe space of my marriage.

 

When November hit, so did the memories. It’s strange how the air seems to hold so many memories, conscious and subconscious. Certain seasons just bring back all the small forgotten things, good and bad.

 

This year, it was heavy on the bad and I had a realization:

I still hadn’t given myself the space to grieve my parents’ divorce.

 

No, life had been moving so fast that there hadn’t been space for the grief to come to the surface.

 

Sure, it had seeped out of the cracks of my life, namely exhaustion and anxiety. When I would feel overwhelmed and cry at any point over the last year, it usually ended with a heartbreaking, “and I miss my dad.” It was a sentiment tagged on at the end… after I had let myself feel the pain of life piling up, I always came to a point that I couldn’t hold in my true grief any longer.

 

But there’s a difference between grief spilling out of our lives and leaning into grieving.

 

When grief spills over, it’s usually a sign of stuffing. By stuffing my emotion, eventually, it became an underwater geyser, the pressure continually building. One surface level trigger would set it off, but once it erupted, I could see that it was way deeper and stronger than I had imagined. My way of dealing with it was usually heaping heavy rocks on top of the opening, refusing to let the water run and the pressure fade out over time.

 

Leaning into the grief is removing the pressure from the situation. By allowing – even inviting – grief to happen, we can give it the space to be experienced and moved past.

 

Grief does not just go away.

 

We cannot wish or will it to disappear. We cannot ignore it forever. We cannot go around it – we have to go through it.

 

Grief looks different for each of us. It’s all created by trauma. For some, our trauma come from the absence of good factors in our life: love, respect, trust, vulnerability, empathy, understanding, encouragement, friendship. For some, our trauma come from the bad things done to us: abuse, tragic loss of a loved one, accidents, illness. Though trauma often feels like an intense word, it literally means “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.”

 

We all carry trauma.

 

It’s a part of being a human on this planet. We are unable to receive love perfectly and unable to give it perfectly. As a result of a fallen world, there is going to be death and loss – physical, but also emotional.

 

Feeling our trauma, our pain, and our emotions is not necessarily fun, but it is necessary.

 

I had to come to terms with my grief.

 

It was messy to step into a season of grieving long after the defining events had passed. The messy end to my parent’s marriage had been a year before. The divorce was finalized last summer. There was a lie that I should be “over it” by now. But the reality was that I had never given myself space to just be really, really, really sad.

 

Giving myself the space to mourn my losses gave me freedom.

 

I was at church one Sunday and I received prayer from a friend. I finally admitted to someone outside of Caleb that I was in a season of grieving. She prayed for me and later told me after church some words along the lines of: “Grieving is brave. You are not broken, you are already whole.”

 

I felt so broken. 

 

I was still stuffing a bit, hesitant that if I felt the pain, it would eat me alive. I was afraid of not being able to function. I was afraid of getting stuck.

 

Yet when grief was given a place in my life, it looked like heartfelt words spilling out in journals, to God, and to my husband. It looked like vulnerability and authenticity and healing.

 

When grief was stuffed and I tried to set it aside, it still showed up. This time it looked like anxiety and depression. It looked like getting panic attacks about going to run errands and being zoned out on the couch staring blankly at the wall. It looked like nasty self-hatred.

 

See, grief needs a place.

 

I’ve been learning to embrace my emotions and to tell my grief:

“I see you. I feel you. I hear you.

You matter.

I know that I cannot outrun you.

You are willing to teach me something if I let you.

You are willing to make me strong, compassionate, and brave.

I just have to give you a space to exist so that you don’t consume my life.

You need to partner up with the Holy Spirit for full effect.

I give you permission to be welcomed into my process.”

 A note from 3 months later:

I thought that the grieving and healing process would take a few months. A little inner healing there, some rest here, good books everywhere… and I’d see a woman who had things figured out.

My mom gave me a piece of advice when I was 15 and healing from a major depressive episode that has stuck with me. “It’s not about returning to what life was before. It’s about finding a new normal.”

New normals are hard to find. They still carry at times the sting of what once was. It’s been a slower process than I’d like it to be. I didn’t want anxiety attacks after I thought I was doing better. I didn’t want months of counseling. I didn’t want to feel like I’m in the messy middle, even while offering my hand to others processing their pain.

This is my life – my messy grief-filled, joyful life. I do not know when I won’t describe my life like that. I don’t have a time limit set. I don’t know when I’ll be “on the other side.”

I cry a lot. Sometimes I have anxiety attacks triggered by things I’m working through. Sometimes I shut off my emotions in order to function. In it all, I’m learning. I’m learning how to lean into my grief, to be brave in my emotions, and to fight for freedom.

Above all, I’ve learned to abide. I simply remain in Jesus – the one fully capable of handling all my grief and all my joy.

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